Spotlight: U.S. historic library excited about progress of Chinese Garden expansion

Xinhua News Agency | Aug 15, 2019 at 8:24 PM

by Julia Pierrepont III, Gao Shan

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- Under Southern California's cerulean skies, Chinese willow trees dip their delicate tendrils into the rippling waters of an idyllic pond, where blooming lotus flowers flare their cream-colored petals to the sunlit heavens.

Nearby, Chinese artisans are laying intricate mosaic pathways, installing elegant Chinese-style curved tile roofs, painting traditional design motifs in the section of the historic Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens' Chinese Garden which is undergoing its final phase of construction.

The project is on track for completion in May 2020. The opening of the new sections of the garden will be one of the keystone events of The Huntington's yearlong Centennial Celebration, which gets underway this September.

"We are on schedule and on budget," a smiling Larry Burik told Xinhua on Tuesday in a press briefing in the Chinese Garden. Burik is the vice president of facilities for The Huntington and oversees a team of 145 employees, including the architects, landscapers and visiting experts from Suzhou, China. "That's a real win in this day and age."

"It takes a village to make these projects happen," he added. "It will be so fulfilling to celebrate its completion with everyone who helped make it happen."

The joint U.S.-Chinese construction team responsible for the project's implementation, architect Snyder Langston, BrightView Landscape Development, and the expert artisans from Suzhou, have been toiling away for years to expand the original 3.5 acres to the full 12-acre 16th century, Suzhou-style scholar's garden that the museum envisioned. Upon completion, the expansion will make the garden one of the largest classical-style Chinese gardens in the world.

More than 50 Chinese artisans from Suzhou are spending six months at The Huntington doing specialized carpentry, masonry, and tile work for the traditional structures being built in this final phase. Their hand-craftsmanship will give the Chinese garden and buildings in it authenticity and beauty. They see their work as a great honor.

"We are very proud to take part in this project because it showcases Chinese culture in America," Xu Xiaoping, the project manager of the Suzhou Garden Development Company, told Xinhua.

"We are working closely with our American partners," he added.

These artisans are treated more like family than contractors by The Huntington and are invited to visit U.S. museums, like the Museum of Modern Art and the Getty Museum, to learn more about American culture while they are visitors to Southern California. The artisans said they are also enthusiastically looking forward to visiting Disneyland.

The special buildings under construction include a Chinese-style exhibition complex housing a traditional scholar's studio and an art gallery for changing displays; a larger cafe with outdoor seating; a stream-side pavilion with scenic views; and a courtyard complex to showcase displays of penjing, China's version of bonsai trees.

And at the highest point in the garden, a hilltop Stargazing Tower is being erected that will boast a scenic line-of-sight to the Mt. Wilson Observatory in the distance.

"Since it initially opened in 2008, we've seen residents from the Asian diaspora and many non-Asians as well come together at this tranquil space and fall in love with it," mused Susan Turner-Lowe, VP of Communications and Marketing at the Huntington. "It is an esthetic and emotional respite from the challenges of the day."

Phillip Bloom, the June and Simon K.C. Li Curator of the Chinese Garden and Director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies, told Xinhua that many of their donors are of Chinese descent.

"The garden has been a huge success in bringing together a variety of people who previously didn't have place to congregate and feel proud of," he explained.

Franklin and Lin Tom, two of the garden's Chinese-American donors, also feel honored to be part of something so special.

"As a symbol of Chinese culture, it gives LA's large and growing Chinese population something to be proud of," Franklin told Xinhua. "It's open to the public too, so I hope everyone will come and marvel and be inspired to take a class in Chinese art or history. I hope it contributes to greater intercultural understanding."

Added his wife, Lin, "It's wonderful that we have this special garden to come to and wander around in to seek solace and quiet."

The total cost of the final phase is approximately 24 million U.S. dollars, of which more than 23.5 million has been raised, said The Huntington, adding that this brings the combined total cost of the garden to about 54 million dollars, all of which was raised from individual, corporate, and foundation gifts.

"In the past, scholars or officials would do their paperwork, write poetry, or paint in these gardens, and even pay musicians to live in their households and perform for them," said Bloom. "Its purpose is conceptually very similar to that of the whole Huntington Library and Garden, with its books, paintings and performances."

"With this expansion, we can delve more deeply into aspects of Chinese culture that are just alluded to in our present garden, but will now be able to be explored more deeply," he explained to Xinhua.

"We can't always get to China, but everyone can come here to get a connection to China's great culture and heritage," affirmed Turner-Lowe. "And we hope they do."